Thursday, September 26, 2013

David T. Gleeson's "The Green and the Gray"

David T. Gleeson is Reader in American History at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, and reported the following:
As I open to page 99 of my book on Sept. 10, 2013, it’s appropriate to see an illustration of Lieutenant Richard ‘Dick’ Dowling of the Davis Guards from Houston, Texas. Just over 150 years ago on Sept. 8, 1863, he, and his 40 odd fellow Irish artillerymen, halted a Union invasion fleet of 5,000 on the East Texas Gulf Coast at Sabine Pass. Though ordered to evacuate their position they refused to do. Dowling wrote in his official report that “All my men behaved like heroes; not a man flinched from his post. Our motto was ‘victory or death.’” Through rapid and accurate fire the Irishmen disabled a number of Union boats precipitating the calling off of the attack and the capture of hundreds of prisoners. Coming just two months after the Confederate disasters at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the victory at Sabine Pass was the first bit of good news for the Confederacy since those massive defeats. Confederate bond prices jumped in London and a grateful Confederate Congress and President sent their commendations to the Irish Texans. Sabine Pass was the most significant Irish military action on behalf of the Confederacy in the War.

Yet, my book tries to pull the Irish Confederate story away from the traditional one of the “Fighting Irish.” There is some truth in many stereotypes and a number of Irish Confederate soldiers performed outstanding acts of gallantry. In general though, they were more likely to desert than to fight and die in combat. If captured they were also far more likely to take the oath of Allegiance to the United States than native soldiers. The Irish Confederate story was thus a far more ambiguous one than many have acknowledged. My book also examines the role of Irish civilians and how their support for the Confederacy also flowed, ebbed, and eventually disappeared. All this ambiguity, however, became lost in the commemoration of the war after it had ended. The “Lost Cause” narrative of Confederate heroism in the post-War South did not have room for deserters and oath takers. Ultimately then, I conclude that, despite the bravery of Dowling and others, national identity and patriotism were very fluid concepts in mid-nineteenth century America both for the Irish and natives.
Learn more about The Green and the Gray at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue